Saturday, April 22, 2017

THIRTY YEARS OF MATERIAL

Pop culture has become a major force in what artists create, whether for commerce or craft.  Film, music, acting, and even politics draw from vivid or hazy memories of our favorite TV shows, celebrity gossip, live concerts and comic books.  I have been attempting to isolate the media touchstones by increments, where the culture and politics and technology all sort of represent a particular “feel.”  A lot bleeds together and generalities are necessary but here’s the best I can do.  This is heavy on the boomer scale and this is why.  I always consider the late eighties to be the start of the “age of irony.”  Simply put, creators of mass media drew upon the previous thirty years for inspiration in a much more overt fashion.  Creators grew up WITH television, which in turn increases awareness of film and music and the political circus.  I start with 1957.  By then, television was in most homes and movies became something you did on a night out rather than the main source of entertainment.  In 1957, movies were mostly represented by a sprawling 16:9 ratio leaving TV to the standard 4:5 format.  And color film was the norm at the cinema while the quality of the video increased substantially—no more kinescope and certainly less live feeds.  Music became intertwined with TV and film culminating in the ultimate MTV movie mashups of the mid eighties.  Broadway show tune LP’s gave way to film theme soundtracks. 
A couple of things happened in the late 80’s that provides a good demarcation for my purposes here:
Fox—a fourth network who’s first hit was “Married with Children” a parody of sitcoms past.
Cable News—News was officially entertainment and prime time competition what with Larry King leading the pack. 
Premium TV – HBO and Showtime matured from lasciviousness to a new “golden age” and films were now broadcast uncut in the living room, leaving the “event” movie going to popcorn at home.
Videotapes – Again, home box office.
“Adult” programming – For thirty years, permissiveness of cable and cinema has now permeated to broadcast television (now represented by a billion stations).  Believe it or not, there was a “specialness” to a raw moment of dialogue or explicitness that made theatergoing an experience unto itself.  Now, after decades of normalization, society’s mores and language is informed more by binge worthy water cooler programming than the other way around.
“Seinfeld” effect – Once again, irony.  A show about nothing becoming a comedy touchstone in 1990 represents nihilism of observational narrative.  While brilliant in it’s own right, characters became callous by nature as the creators wanted to mimic the successful sensibility of detachment.
HBO Sunday effect – With the blockbuster night of Sopranos, Sex and the City, and Curb Your Enthusiasm the line between TV and film blurred even more.  Family hour was no longer counted upon.
Tarantino effect – Whereas Quentin is masterful and genuine in his appropriation of beloved movie and TV touchstones, filmmakers and programmers to the point of retro fatigue have emulated his enthusiasm.
Reality TV in the White House


So from 1987 to 2017, I can count less than twenty film and television milestones that really grab me.  I’ve missed a lot—who has time to see the multitudes among the voluminous viewing options and trillions of new shows each month.  Just reading the descriptions, everything seems derivative from something else.  And the derivation is located smack dab in the previous thirty years.  Let’s try this:

1957-1963:



Kennedy was king.  The Eisenhower years were still influencing the “whitewash” of media—saccharine sitcoms for instance.  But there was a subversive element in films and the quality (original golden age) television dramas represented by the new Beatnik generation (parodied in “Dobie Gillis” and captured by seminal works of John Casavettes).  Robert Drew brought cinema verite to politics as Camelot allowed DC and Hollywood to finally consummate a relationship.  The infamous Nixon/Kennedy debate cemented the marriage.  Elvis was the King of the forbidden in music and film.  Country was growing out.  Ricky Nelson was growing up.  This was the “Mad Men” era represented by “The Apartment” and Bob Newhart’s record-breaking button down comedy.  Mid-century was the norm; The Jetsons informed the future.  Crisp and clear black and white images: the gothic mirth of Psycho and Baby Jane; the televised wit of Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke; the earnest photography of Perry Mason, Twelve Angry Men and pretty much any Preminger film.  Dell paperbacks and comics created a pulp extravaganza only heightened by a subcultural sleaze in the new availability of two-reel exploitation in the coming Russ Meyers revolution.  Limited animation was now the go-to thanks to Hanna-Barbera’s menagerie of commercial hits and the corresponding ad agency design minimalism. Paddy Chayefsky was the voice of the times. These Six years smell like the attic and sound like a smoky jazz beat.

1963-1969:



How did these post-assassination years deal with a moral confusion, a national consensus of hopelessness?  Images of war in the living rooms?  Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy joining JFK in senseless violent ends?  An era of upheaval as the LBJ’s New Deal inseminates the Southern Strategy and emboldens Civil Rights?  And culminates in Helter Skelter?  Well, Austin Powers can answer that.  While Stanley Kubrick was pushing the envelope of doom and anxiety:--sexually (Lolita); politically (Dr. Strangelove) and prophetically (2001)—most studio fare consisted of 70 mm extravaganzas.  Historical flops like Cleopatra, which was only successful in crowning the first Hollywood royal couple.  Vivid and bright mega-comedies from Blake Edwards and other Mad Mad Worlds merged slapstick with day-glow imagery.  James Bond was the rage bringing vacant sexiness to an emerging violent cinema rooted in subconscious fears.  Bond was bound for TV, as spy shows became the trend.  TV basked in escapism whether it is rural shenanigans and visual entendres (see the denizens of Hooterville) or the fantastical elements Screen Gems “Bewitched” and “Jeannie.”  Is it any wonder that Gene Roddenberry provided the most though-provoking television in another world via the USS Enterprise?  And Mr. Powers was definitely hip to the new mod sensibilities.  The Beatles took the world by storm—with Dylan and the Rolling Stones—changing the musical landscape forever.  Those sensibilities were reflected in film thanks to the new Corman crowd (Fonda and Nicholson) who brought psychedelic a to the big screen and the small screen (remember “The Monkees?”).    Peter Sellers—in all his divine schizophrenic madness was figurehead of cinematic acid trips.  Speaking of the big screen, the French New Wave of the past time period was now reflected in American film thanks to Warren Beatty’s perseverance (“Bonnie and Clyde”).  Mike Nichols shared his voice with Simon and Garfunkel to create the new modern masterpiece of youthful cynicism.  Back on TV, Fred Silverman started the media manipulation of tots by spearheading the licensing of comic book superheroes to Saturday Morning—selling cereal and Ideal Toys to kids consuming the soon-to-be vilified ultra-violence of Jonny Quest and friends. 

1969-1975:



The turning point here was the year the Manson murders occurred (post Rosemary’s Baby…Pulanski’s involvement in both) along with Midnight Cowboy becoming the first X-rated feature to win the Best Picture Oscar and the premiere of “The Brady Bunch.”  This period was one of complete despair and confusion.  The colorful mod culture morphed into Woodstock:  dirty, naked unshaven “hippies.”  Civil rights laws were now in full force and activism became thoughtful (if somewhat “immoral”) but also, highly violent in spurts.  Peter Boyle’s “Joe” (the darkest id of the era’s lovable anti-hero Archie Bunker) represented the soft-core, utterly grimy feel of early 70’s cinema:  Hackman’s antihero Popeye Doyle; Depalma’s bitter satires; Scorsese’s birth of blood-splattered urbanity; and Satan speaking through a crucifix defiling waif.  Coppolla’s masterpiece “The Godfather” revived the cinema blockbuster a couple of years before the Spielberg/Lucas tent pole phenomenon.  Woody Allen and Mel Brooks alternately shared the title of King of Farce.  But TV ruled.  It could be argued (and I often do) that this period represented the most challenging and intelligent entertainment in BOTH TV and film.  Whereas most of the theaters basically involved “adult” entertainment—corrupt politics, bold Blaxploitation, horror both ultra bloody and psychologically damaging, and crudely produced sex comedies---the boob tube offered the politically incorrect satires of Norman Lear and the human sitcoms from Mary Tyler Moore’s new empire.  Along with the TV version of Altman’s “MASH,” CBS’s Tiffany lineup on Saturday nights provides a template for the finest in broadcast television. ABC and NBC still traded on Day-Glo light romcom laugh track material.  Fred Silverman, the chief of programming for CBS—he who tore down the trees of rural cornpone—was bearing the fruit of his earlier inspiration, Scooby Doo.  Along with the Archies, Fat Albert and Josie and the Pussycats, Saturday Morning found a winning formula with mystery solving rock bands.  The characters represented a benign version of the counterculture racially diverse society that was being co-opted by corporations to exploit into advertising tools.  And while Peggy Charron was fighting violence on kid’s shows, her organization did nothing to fight the influence of psychedelic drugs as depicted on the Krofft puppet shows.  Speaking of puppets, a need for educational children’s programming led to the PBS forming the Children’s Television Network bring “Sesame Street” and Muppets to the fore…once again giving youngsters a fresh new take on society—not too unlike the urban cinema mentioned earlier.   And much like the commune, music was sort of hazy and insightful:  Harry Chapin’s haunting ballads, Carole King’s beautiful melodies; The Carpenter’s depressing/happy musings.  The Beatles were each doing their own things—creating future Muzak.  And everything represented raw reality and possible hope.  It was the era of Watergate.  The hangover of the Sixties.  Today’s society is at the same point today.

1975-1981


By now it’s time to party.  Colonial grunge gave way to the flairiest of polyester and perms.  Porn ‘staches were in as Debbie did Dallas and Jack Tripper ogled Crissy with mainstream lasciviousness.  Although short-lived, the cocaine-infused Studio 54 ethos swarmed the media landscape. The Bee gee’s and ELO with the disco craze.  Hair metal was permeating the youth culture what with Kiss and Cooper.  Pop was populated with 50’s nostalgia with Sha Na Na, Fonzie and the hit musical Grease.  This was clearly John Travolta’s coming out with his triple representation of the above tropes with Vinnie Barbarino, Saturday Night Fever, and Grease.  Even his Urban Cowboy would usher in country music and Gilly-land to the mainstream after the previous decade found it meshing with hippie-culture ala Willie.  The public was tired of politics—assassinations and Vietnam and Watergate were the past.  So the peanut farmer from Georgia represented a Washington DC at the lowest ebb of beltway scrutiny.  It didn’t take long for uber-programmer to morph from CBS’s arbiter of quality to ABC’s t & a titillation: “Charlies Angels” and the resulting Farrah phenomenon; Battle of the Network Stars; Three’s Company and Soap brought the bedroom to sitcoms.  While TV was king, the cinema became more of a slumming night out.  Some of the best schlock was created in this era with Roger Corman’s subversive cult classics being born.  Quality cinema was relegated to Oscar telecasts and quiet conversations with an occasional breakout (“Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Network,” “Shampoo”) usually digested as a network edited for television movie of the week.  Woody Allen was getting serious.  And someone had to because the summer blockbuster mentality arrived with Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” and George Lucas’s “Star Wars.”  Marvel and DC comics really started doing character mash-ups now and the legends were being deconstructed more than ever before.  Saturday morning and kitsch still were home to the superheroes but the big-screen Superman started the comic book to celluloid invasion.  And probably the longest-lasting pop culture phenomenon was born during this period:  Lorne Michael’s Saturday Night Live.  Belushi, Akroyd, Chase, Murray, Curtin, and Radner joined their Canadian Second City compatriots Candy, Short, O’Hara, Levy, Thomas, Moranis, Ramis and Martin in taking satire to all new levels.  Whether it be the new comedy crudity of the frat-ball slob comedies (Animal House, Meatballs and Caddyshack), the biting and offbeat commentary inspired by the National Lampoon brand and Albert Brooks, or the drug-fueled content now permeating the kids next door (Cheech and Chong: blatant; Steve Martin: kinda sorta implied)…the icons of comedy would be forever changed from the cue card shtick of Bob Hope.


1981-1987:


Ushering in my final segment of nostalgia is the summer release of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  After that life-altering experience, the cinematic experience involved searching for that incredible big-screen knockout that combined pre-CGI action and effects, wry humor, romance and minimum bloody shocks.  And they were found: Wrath of Khan, Poltergeist, ET, American Werewolf in London, Cat People, Gremlins and Temple of Doom.  Box office bonanzas were found in the new in your face Reagan-era machismo courtesy of Stallone and the now emboldened Schwartz egger.  Rambo, Rocky and Dirty Harry replaced the feel-good limp-wristed lineup of socially damaged anti-heroes.  The National Lampoon crowd now ruled comedy.Landis, Reitman, Ramis…casting retired SNLers while Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy were dominating the cultural zeitgeist.  Another Lampooner found his voice now:  John Hughes.  His sardonic, hysterical and heartfelt odes to youth gave an unintentional birth to an emo culture.  And in doing so also put the capstone on melding pop music soundtracks with film.  And a lot of that had to do with MTV.  It was during this time that the most popular videos of all time, by now quaint and archaic were created along with new careers.  There were one-hit wonders and a synth-beat ethic that breeds warmth through familiarity rather than social import.  Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Murphy’s hit single both reflect this hybrid of moviemakers and music biz.  “We Are the World” brought all of them together.  Watching that video will give you a quick course in the music icons of the time.  Except two:  Madonna and Prince.  Her bad girl persona was permeating all discussion and his “Purple Rain” captured audiences both in vinyl and celluloid.  And while Spielberg’s suburban fantasies dominated theaters, there was a very strong strain of urbanity.  The geniuses of 70s cinema were providing a more glossed up studio product but no less brilliant (Lumet, Pollack, Depalma) but the low-budget schlock became more perverse, more grimy and more sick.  Friday the 13th franchise would rule the gore porn crowd. These would end up being the best renters at video shops, now another touchstone of change.  And as cheaply made as these were it wouldn’t be a decade before the slimy genre would go mainstream.  The urbanity would extend to TV.  Third wheel NBC would now be number one thanks to the dark humor of Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues), sexual tempo of Sam and Diane, and ironically the resurgence of “family TV” with Bill Cosby.  David Letterman’s new hazy late night talk show was the perfect capstone for the now late-night denizens of a burgeoning cynical party era as a Lorne-less SNL was losing audience members (save Murphy, again).  Sitcoms were still re-inventing seventies stars what with Newhart and the Golden Girls adding an audience-pleasing unreality to the scripts that only complemented the artificiality of the videotaped family dreck of the now-saturated mullet-haired comedies.  Even Saturday Morning was now fully invested in creating toys and fast food personas—the Smurfication, if you will of kid’s shows.  The emergence of Pee Wee Herman (even Pryor) would signal the future of adult-friendly kiddie shows that would lend themselves to the future of multi-platform viewing.  Michael J. Fox created a character in Family Ties, which speaks volumes on the politics of the time:  a young Wall Street-loving conservative, all alone in his views among his hippie family.  But that yuppie caricature—represented in the burgeoning milieu of Brett Easton Ellis—combined with the Vietnam vets getting revenge on an unwelcoming American (liberal) beaurocracy represents the moral confusion that the previous eras planted the seeds of.  One year later Michael Douglas would win an Oscar for uttering, “Greed is Good” as Iran-Contra and Oliver North were creating fodder for a new 24-hour news cycle.








  

Friday, January 27, 2017

My letter to Mary.



Mary
I was a bit too young to appreciate your capri pants in real time.  Some of my older peers regale me with tales of love for your Jackie O doppelganger as the wife of a beleaguered TV comedy writer.  Laura Petrie, indeed. 

And I missed you those first four years on the glorious Saturday night schedule on the Tiffany network.  You know, the one you shared with Dur Bob Hartley, Archie Bunker, Carol Burnett and, for one season, the 4077th.  By the time your best friend Rhoda was married (which I caught because Monday was a weeknight—I duly got my homework done in time for sitcoms), I finally discovered you on the weekends when my family didn’t go out for barbeque at Goerke’s  or burgers at the Ski Lodge. 

When I did find you, Mary Richards, it was like spending time at one of my parent’s cocktail parties.  Lots of mature adults sometimes acting like kids.  But not juvenile.  Just human.  I wanted to move to Minneapolis…where it was cold.  Those streets you walked on downtown were very far from the dusty one-lanes of Guadalupe County.  For some reason, Mary, I always watched those bright and loud taped Norman Lear sitcoms.  I learned a lot from them but I wasn’t attuned to the nuance of soft, filmed well-written comedy.  And third leg of the seventies sitcom stool…Garry Marshall…provided a lot of must-see TV in Fred Silverman’s new bonanza with Fonz and Mork.  Age appropriate you could say.  (The Sweathogs and Chico too.)   I had the T shirts.   Much as the cops in the 12th precinct, I never truly appreciated your sense of humor until later in life. 

When your show ended and the reruns were syndicated in the afternoon, my afterschool specials involved this young woman with long hair starting a new life.  It was like you were a different person altogether.  I even thought Laura Petrie was older.  In the early 70’s you looked like my babysitter!  But by 1977 you were so sophisticated and world weary…dealing with a preening idiot anchorman and a sexpot homemaker.  I discovered your arc, Mary.

In 1978, I was old enough to be embarrassed by your attempts at a variety show.  You did introduce America to future superstars and helped them get their start though.  That same year, your creators started their own company and moved to another network with a group of cabbies.  The character comedy was just as brilliant..but it wasn’t home.  The newsroom.  The highrise you moved into.  It was a garage.  In grimy New York. 

After you got an Oscar nomination for playing a brittle, wounded mother…I hardly saw you.  My mother fell in love with your show when I did, in reruns.  She watched you with Dudley Moore, over and over, in a film no one else saw.  And I never watched your new sitcoms in the eighties and your attempts to remake yourself in movies of the week and flashy dramas in the 90s.  But your saucy turn in an independent comedy in the 90s was a nice surprise.  You brought your naughty side to the fore when you hosted SNL.  But, dammit, you’re Mary Richards…stop it!

But from 1970-1977, you were my Mary…always.  You and your husband created the highest quality TV:  Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, Phyllis, Tony Randall Show, Lou Grant, White Shadow, Hill Street Blues, WKRP, St. Elsewhere and Newhart.  Why does it trump today’s renaissance of television?  All the hoopla and binge watching?  Because, Mary, you brought class to the small screen.  No pratfalls, no constant sexual innuendo, no crudity…your comedies were about humans and humanity.  Of course, there was sexual tension between you and your boss…and when you didn’t get back by morning it was subtle and not spelled out in gory detail.  The nymphomaniac you knew was middle-aged, not a co-ed and the workplace buffoon showed traces of humility.  Traces.  Even the highest quality programming now, Mary, inundates the audience with in-your- face dysfunction and crass sensibility that actually informs our behavior rather than mocks it. 

So I go to sleep at night with your DVD on…or Bob….the comfort of friends.  Quiet humor.  A studio audience in on the joke.  I tell as many young people as I can to watch your show to see how comedy is done right.  Many tried to copy you.  “Cheers” was too cruel.  “Murphy Brown” too political.  “Seinfeld” was too soulless.  “Frasier” was full of itself.  “Friends” set trends.  Tina Fey decided to use your show as a template…and the love showed through the wild parody.  Because, like me, she knew you then. 

Many will ruminate on the sociological impact of your show.  What you did for women in enlightening the discussion and altering the landscape of stale thought.  I recognize that, but my appreciation lies in your commitment to QUALITY.

Thanks, Mary, for elevating sitcoms and entertainment in general.  No one has topped those seven years on Saturday night.  No one.  You did make it, girl, after all! 




Saturday, August 27, 2016

Class of '81



My graduating class of 1981--Seguin High School, The Matadors--is celebrating it's 35th reunion this month.  The last reunion I attended was the tenth year in '91.  That's some spread.  But what I had then that I don't have now is a life.  Therefore, allow me to fondly remember and chronicle my boomer (edge boomer if you will) memories around the graduation years, 1980-1981.

I'll start with the visceral memories--the reality--before I dive into the media morass.  I lived on Lake McQueeney, a man made body of water thirty some-odd miles from San Antonio.  Our house was on Treasure Island which was pretty cool with the canals running behind the houses (sort of like liquid alleys).  By that time, I was an avid water skier--I didn't have the patience for fishing--and spent lots of time piloting the family inboard/outboard.  I did yard work for my neighbors to make some spending cash.  Otherwise, I watched TV and read comic books.


 I didn't follow current events too much outside of the Today Show which I soaked in before going to school.  Jane Pauley and Tom Brokaw were the perfect way to start the day.  Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter for the presidency.  The Iranian hostage crisis ended with the release.  There were gas lines.  The Soviets invaded Afghanistan.  Reagan was shot.  The Pope was shot.  After St. Helens people were freaking out about volcano eruptions.   There was a lot  of news about Lech Walesa's Solidarity Party.



At school, I came out of my shell with the theater department.  Discovering acting led to my greatest in-school memories.  Starting mid-way through my junior year, my extracurricular activities pretty much were based in the SHS playhouse: a chorus member in "George M" (I can still do every song--secretly wanted to play Cohan); Pim (father) in "Diary of Anne Frank"; and a crazy doctor in "Li'l Abner." All the melodramas and parody shows were a result of engagement with  a group of fellow "introverts" labeled the "Supercilious Players" (modeled on Monty Python) and the subversive antics of the "Taglionies" (don't ask).  Somehow, I managed to keep my grades up and still do some creative writing activities, perform on the debate team (disaster!) and gain a reputation as an art thief  as I plagiarized Hanna-Barbera cartoons at a quick pace and recited memorized Bob Newhart routines for my classmates.



Now, in keeping with the theme of the blog here's what was going on outside of "real life."  I wasn't really a music guy so I can't wax nostalgic about my favorite songs during the time (outside of movie themes, see below).  Disco was sort of on the way out and I had no idea about what was going on the hair metal world--though it was huge in San Antonio. I just knew that KISS met the Phantom and Ozzy did something to a bat. However, I can say that I was given a copy of Billy Joel's "Glass Houses" and that pretty much became my graduation soundtrack.  Looking back there was a heavy dose of Paul McCartney and John Lennon songs.  One of the most vivid memories was the news of Lennon's death at the schoolyard.  I remember fellow students who were Beatle fanatics literally going into shock.   A group of us drove to Central Park Mall in San Antonio and I was initiated into the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" (only five years after the movie was made), so that great music became part of the fabric for me.  John Barry's beautiful soundtrack of the film "Somewhere In Time" captured my romantic yearnings along with the film.  The soundtrack holds up much better than the film, by the way.  At the time, Robert Altman's "Popeye" came and went but I pretty much had all the Harry Nillson tunes down thanks to the cassette tape soundtrack--and I wasn't even a stoner!  "Grease" was still fresh so I had to see Olivia Newton-John in "Xanadu."  It came and went (another one saved for future sainthood) but I devoured that REO/Jeff Lynne soundtrack like some kind of roller disco freak ("Magic" holds a special allure).  "Don't Ask Me Why." And for some reason, Neil Diamond's "Hello, Again" from the ill-fated "Jazz Singer" remake always takes me back to those years.  If I had to soundtrack that year, it would include "Upside Down," "Bette Davis Eyes," "Jessie's Girl," "Rapture," "Morning Train," "Lady," and "Kiss is on My List." There was always lots of country music which I despised as a kid--that's another blog post though.  Aside from my dad's Bob Newhart Button Down Mind albums--and a Cheech and Chong 45 he had for some strange reason (Dave who?)--Steve Martin was ruling the roost in my stand-up LP world.



I had a special relationship with Steve.  My mother's best friend growing up in Waco was Martin's dad's sister.  So the narrative somehow became:  Scott is related to Steve Martin, thus his comic genius.  I thinks Steve's third album, "Comedy is Not Pretty" was out and "The Jerk" established itself as a comic gem.  My copy of "Cruel Shoes" was proudly displayed on my desk.  Once again, not being a stoner, it was the silly parts of his routines that I "got" at the time.  Which brings me to SNL.  By this time, the original crew had left and Lorne Michaels quit.  Fall of 1980 brought a new producer and cast of unknowns--many to remain so, except some bit player named Eddie Murphy.  So all of us "comedy experts" were focused on ABC's rival show "Fridays" featuring, oh, Larry David and Michael Richards.  Of course, the drug references won hand down opposite NBC's Saturday Night and I had no clue.  But my heart at this time went to SCTV.  The Canadian 90 minute program followed Carson on Friday nights and was so well, "off," and the parody was just obscure and "precious" enough to be attractive to all of us theater nerds:  John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Joe Flahery, Catherine O'Hara and Andrea Martin.  (Martin Short would come later.)



Back to SNL for a moment.  By this time all the original players were branching into movies. John Belushi became a smash with "Animal House" which I missed due to the "R" rating.  Therefore when Steven Spielberg's "1941" came out I was breathlessly in line.  So when he and Dan Akroyd brought John Landis's "The Blues Brothers" to the big screen the summer before I graduated, I was in hog heaven.  The "Briefcase Full of Blues" album became a staple of those years--many times in the privacy of my room I performed "Rubber Biscuit" and "Gimme Some Lovin" with no appreciation of the original "blues masters practicing their craft" or the resultant "references."  To me, it was two comedians dancing and singing and that was enough.  Bill Murray had made a mark with "Meatballs" (Ivan Reitman) so by this time "Caddyshack" (Harold Ramis) was eagerly anticipated. Especially teaming up with the box office star Chevy Chase who he replaced on SNL.  (There was a trailer for "Caddyshack" referencing this "feud" and I cannot find it on Youtube.)  My mom was still buying tickets for my R rated escapades so Caddyshack gleefully initiated me to "the 80's"
much more than "The Jerk" and "Blues Brothers." I must say that another summer camp movie helped me "grow up":  "Little Darlings."  I had sort of a crush on Kristy McNichol from "Family" and Tatum O'Neal from "Bad News Bears" so I felt I had reached some level of maturation upon going to this feature.  Two of my favorite MTM sitcom stars, Ted Knight and Bob Newhart had hosted SNL the year before and were now doing films with these ribald performers.  Knight scored as the pompous judge in "Caddyshack" however Newhart's performance as the president in Buck Henry's "First Family" was a huge letdown--also being Gilda Radner's film debut (outside of Mike Nichol's doc of her stage show, "Gilda").  Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman also contributed to some forgettable projects.  John Belushi would be gone too soon.  Chevy Chase continued with failures and successes (notably the Vacation and Fletch franchises.)  Akroyd would solder on through the decade.  Bill Murray would burn out bright and fast (Stripes, Ghostbusters, Scrooged) and then be resurrected as an indie icon and finally--a legend.  And the comedy directors from this period, helming National Lampoon and Second City-inspired fare--subversive "slob comedy" with a slight intellectual bent--would soon rule Hollywood:  Landis, Reitman, Ramis.  And then:  Eddie Murphy.  Farcical humor was represented by the new Zucker brother style in "Airplane!" but I soon realized it wasn't new.   In the spring of '81, "Blazing Saddles" was re-released--this was before VHS folks--and I was completely taken aback by how all these "old" comedians could do this blue, SNL-style humor.   Mad Magazine tried to be the new National Lampoons' with Robert Downey's "Up the Academy" but that was rightly panned and I was rightly shocked by the ribald griminess. Richard Pryor would survive his accident and start a box office bonanza with "Stir Crazy."  Goldie Hawn's "Private Benjamin" would soon spawn it's TV clone.  And "Nine to Five" would establish Dolly Parton's credentials as a dramatic actress (also leading to a sitcom).   Outside of edited network "Movie of the Weeks" I never experienced much of official Hollywood.  It was quite an awakening.



I mostly watched TV through the seventies but the Christmas releases of 1979 shifted my focus to movies and the resultant "must-see" mentality:  "1941," "The Jerk," "The Black Hole", and "Star Trek."  Those latter two represent my other major theme in cinema during my last high school years:  science fiction.  Along with my studious perusal of my "Starlog" magazines I found myself quite fascinated with the mechanics of space on the big screen.  I think it all started with "Buck Rogers" on NBC and original Star Trek reruns on Saturday night (when I quit watching SNL).  Paired with "Wild Wild West" and "Twilight Zone" reruns on Channel 5, Saturday nights informed my future love of cinema more than my obsession with Planet of the Apes, Inspector Clouseau or the Bad News Bears--those three franchises being my sole cinema highlights in the seventies.  So the summer before I graduated, I went with some friends to see "Empire Strikes Back" not having seen the original "Star Wars"--that's right, you heard it--and that sealed the deal.  Fortunately, there was a "Star Wars" reissue that year--videotapes were not in the rage yet--and I saw it second on the big screen.  Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters" came back with a Special Edition. "Superman II" (Lester's version) was released.  I missed the R rated "Alien" but caught Roger Corman's PG "Battle Beyond the Stars." "Flash Gordon" went way over my head.  Farrah Fawcett (who was still on my radar) made a sci-fi called "Saturn 3" which came and went and I still haven't seen it and have no idea where to find it.  But it was in summer of '81--post graduation--when my life changed and a new film--from the creators of "Jaws" and "Star Wars" --premiered at a special sneak preview after "Caveman" at the Seguin Palace theater.  After seeing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" five or six times that summer cinema became my new television.  And that first summer after graduation was one for the books: "Clash of the Titans" (at a drive-in!), "Cannonball Run," "Stripes," "History of the World Part 1," "American Werewolf in London," "Arthur," "Dragonslayer," and another all-time fave, Blake Edward's "SOB."  Oh and Bo Derek in "Tarzan, the Ape Man."



By the time Bo was frolicking on the beach, I could get into the "mature" films without parental guidance.  But, hey, I was already hijacked dad's Playboy's with the celebrity profiles--especially the aforementioned corn-rowed beauty.  I may be mistaken but I may have been taken to the toolshed when I had classmates lined up outside my dad's side office to sneak peaks for a slight charge.  Maybe that didn't happen and I just wished I were that, well, entrepreneurial.  I can remember parties at the island where someone would have this new thing called "cable" and the men would stand transfixed by the Playboy Playmates lounging au natural while the wives were gossiping in the kitchen.  But on more innocent level, I did have sort of a crush that year on Lisa Whelchel who played Blair on "Facts of Life."  She was previously one of the new Mouseketeers and in a Joe Camp film titled "Double McGuffin."  I tolerated the "Diff'rent Strokes" spin off for her and Gary Coleman turned out to be the breakout hit in Fred Silverman's new revised NBC lineup.



Speaking of prime time  television, between theater and cinema, there wasn't much time in my senior year.  Saturday nights still would involve TV dinners and a double date with Love Boat and Fantasy Island.  The golden age of seventies TV was turning back to rural hokum by now with "Dukes of Hazzard" and "Dallas" ruling the ratings on CBS.   I had devoured all things sitcoms before this time.  (Saturday morning was pretty much off the radar by now).    In Milwaukee, Arnold's burned down and Richie was gone.  Laverne and Shirley moved the gang to Hollywood.  Crissy Snow was demoted to phone conversations and The Ropers were replaced by Barney Fife.  Archie Bunker now owned the bar and said goodbye to dearly departed Edith. The 4077th was Important Television and awaiting it's place in history.  Flo was failing in Houston and wishing she was back at Mel's Diner. "One Day at a Time" was on its way to becoming "My Three Sons."  George and Louise Jefferson were astonishingly time slotting themselves into another five years of Nielsons.  "Soap" was running out of scandals and Benson was running the governor's mansion..  Mork was Orking to Hollywood.  Ted Knight returned with two nubile daughters and Tom Hanks was cross dressing his way to success in "Bosom Buddies."  Some wiseacre named Michael Keaton kept appearing in failed sitcoms.  "Lou Grant" was established outside of WJM and laugh tracks.  The only gold standards left were "Taxi" and "WKRP."  And the final gasps of the 12th precinct--Barney and the squad were still in top form--would give way to another "authentic" detective serio-comedy: "Hill Street Blues."



Stephen Bochco's classic would set the standard for NBC's 80's resurgence.  Along with a comedian who appeared on Carson a lot.  Of course, Johnny Carson was the man and I planned on being his successor having entertained my cohorts so often with my big-city, show-biz loving curiosities and style.  But this young comedian who sporadically appeared on prime time was given a morning show after Today Show aired.  With Paul Schaffer as a musical director, David Letterman's first program was really sort of out of place.  It was on during the summer of '80  year so I was able to experience it.  It didn't last.  But a year and a half later--after Carson's show on weeknights--history would be made.



But as I said, film became my new normal.  I was trying to capture all the new releases as all my favorite TV stars were shifting to the big screen.  Mary Tyler Moore in "Ordinary People" for instance.  Disney had gone PG with "Black Hole" so Buena Vista was releasing all sorts of "adult" PG fare by now such as "Midnight Madness" with an unknown Canadian kid actor, Michael J. Fox.  Focusing on SNL casted comedies and fantasy/sci-fi titles, I missed a lot of the great drama at the time: "Raging Bull," "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Kramer Vs. Kramer," Elephant Man,"  Being in theater I somehow missed out on "All That Jazz" and "Fame" until later in college.  All I remember from "The Shining" was the terrifying elevator trailer. "Heaven's Gate" was on the news, not the screens.  "The Blue Lagoon" was relegated to a Brooke Shields poster.  Living in a small town in Texas somehow didn't draw me to the "Urban Cowboy" phenomenon (I suppose I considered myself too "urban.)  And thanks to a local TV station that showed a slightly edited version of "Friday the 13th," I was able to experience the genesis of the slasher mystique.




All in all, it was a very unique time.  The seventies were still fresh on the cultural psyche yet the eighties fads were slowly making a name for themselves.  I never got into Atari or Dungeon and Dragons and paid dearly for it as my pop-culture touchstones come to a complete halt in the mid-eighties.  There wasn't much room for it anyhow.

But looking back, it all seems like:







Saturday, August 20, 2016

Who's still alive in sitcom world, for pete's sake?

Let's celebrate those still with us, from classic sitcoms:

LIFE WITH ELIZABETH/DATE WITH ANGELS - Betty White

THE HONEYMOONERS - Joyce Randolph (Trixie)


FATHER KNOWS BEST -  Elinor Donahue ( Betty) Billy Gray (Bud), Lauren Chapin (Kitty)

DANNY THOMAS SHOW - Angla Cartwright (Linda)

REAL MCCOYS - Kathy Nolan (Kate)

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER - Jerry Mathers (the Beav), Tony Dow (Wally), 
Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell)

DONNA REED SHOW - Shelly Fabares (Mary), Paul Peterson (Jeff)

DENNIS THE MENACE - Jay North (Dennis), Gloria Henry (Alice)

DOBIE GILLIS - Dwayne Hickman (Dobie), Warren Beatty (Milton Armitage),
   Tuesday Weld (Thalia Menninger), Shiela James (Zelda)

ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW - Ron Howard (Opie), Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle), Ken Berry and Arlene Golonka  (from "Mayberry RFD")

MY THREE SONS - Tim Considine (Mike), Stanley Livingston (Steve),
 Barry Livingstson (Ernie)

DICK VAN DYKE SHOW - Dick Van Dyke (Rob Petrie), Mary Tyler Moore (Laura Petrie),
    Rose Marie ( Sally Miles), Carl Reiner (Alan Brady)

MCHALE'S NAVY - Tim Conway (Ensign Parker), Gavin McLeod

BEVERLY HILLBILLIES - Max Baer (Jethro)

PETTICOAT JUNCTION - Linda Kaye (Betty Jo), Jeannine Riley/Gunilla Hutton (Billie Jo),
    Pat Woodell/Lori Saunders (Bobbi Jo)

ADDAMS FAMILY - John Astin (Gomez), Lisa Loring (Wednesday)

GOMER PYLE USMC - Jim Nabors (Gomer), Ronnie Schell (Duke)

THE MUNSTERS - Butch Patrick (Eddie), Pat Priest (Marilyn)

BEWITCHED - Erin Murphy (Tabitha)

GILLIGAN'S ISLAND - Tina Louise (Ginger), Dawn Wells (Mary Ann)

F TROOP - Larry Storch (Corp. Agarn), Ken Berry (Capt. Parmenter)
    James Hampton (Dobbs)

GIDGET - Sally Field (Gidget)

MY MOTHER, THE CAR - Jerry Van Dyke (David)

GET SMART - Barbara Feldon (99), Dick Gautier (Hymie)

I DREAM OF JEANNIE - Barbara Eden (Jeannie), Bill Dailey (Roger)

GREEN ACRES - Tom Lester (Eb)

HOGAN'S HEROES - Robert Clary (Labaue) Kenneth Washington (Baker)

FAMILY AFFAIR - Johnnie Whitakre (Jody), Kathy Garver (Sissy)

THAT GIRL - Marlo Thomas (Ann Marie), Bernie Kopell, Jackie Joseph, Rose Marie

FLYING NUN - Sally Field (Sister Bertrille), Marge Redmond

DORIS DAY SHOW - Doris Day, Kaye Ballard, Jackie Joseph

HERE'S LUCY - Lucie Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr.

JULIA - Diahann Carroll (Julia), Marc Copage (Corey)

BRADY BUNCH - Florence Henderson (Carol), Maureen McCormick (Marcia), Eve Plumb (Jan), Susan Olsen (Cindy), Barry Williams (Greg), Christopher Knight (Peter), Mike Lookinland (Bobby)

COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER - Brandon Cruz (Eddie)

ROOM 222 - Michael Constantine, Lloyd Haines, Denise Nicholas, Karen Valentine

NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR - Juliet Mills (Nanny)

PARTRIDGE FAMILY - Shirley Jones (Shirley), David Cassidy (Keith), Susan Dey (Laurie),
Danny Bonaduce (Danny), Brian Forster (Chris)

MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW - Mary Tyler Moore (Mary Richards), Valerie Harper (Rhoda Morgenstern), Cloris Leachman (Phyllis), Ed Asner (Lou Grant), GAvid Macleod (Murray),
Betty White (Sue Ann), Georgia Engel (Georgette)

ALL IN THE FAMILY - Rob Reiner (Mike Stivic), Sally Struthers (Gloria), Danielle Brisebois (Stephanie)

SANFORD AND SON - Demond Wilson (Lamont), Nathanial Taylor (Rollo)

M*A*S*H - Alan Alda (Hawkeye Pierce), Garry Burghoff (Radar), Loretta Swit (Hot Lips),
Jamie Farr (Klinger), William Christopher (Father Mulcahey), Mike Farrell (BJ), David Ogden Stiers (Winchester), GW Bailey (Rizzo)

MAUDE - Bill Macy (Walter), Addrienne Barbeau (Carol)

BOB NEWHART SHOW - Bob Newhart (Hi, Bob), Bill Dailey (Howard), Peter Bonerz (Jerry)

GOOD TIMES - Jimmie Walker (JJ), Bernadette Stanis (Thelma), Ralph Carter (Michael),
John Amos (James), Ja'Net Dubois (Wilona), Janet Jackson (Penny), Johhny Brown(Bookman)

HAPPY DAYS - Ron Howard (Richie), Henry Winkler (Fonzie), Marion Ross (Marion),
Anson Williams (Potsie), Donny Most (Ralph Malph), Erin Moran (Joannie), Scott Baio (Chachi)

RHODA - Valerie Harper (Rhoda), Julie Kavner (Brenda), Ray Buktenica (Benny)

CHICO AND THE MAN - Della Reese (Della)

THE JEFFERSONS - Marla Gibbs (Florence), Berlinda Tolbert (Jenny), Damon Evans (Lionel)

BARNEY MILLER - Hal Linden (Barney), Ron Glass (Harris), Max Gail (Wojohowitz)
Gregory Sierra (Chano), Linda Lavin, Barbara Barrie

WELCOME BACK, KOTTER - Gabe Kaplan (Gabe), John Travolta (Vinnie Barbarino),
Lawrence HIlton-Jacobs (Freddie Boom Boom Washington)

LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY- Penny Marshall (Laverne), Cindy Williams (Shirley), Michael McKean (Lenny), DAvid L. Lander (Squiggy), Eddie Mekka (Carmine)

ONE DAY AT A TIME - Mackenzie Phillips (Julie), Valerie Bertinelli (Barbara), Richard Masur (David Kane), Shelly Fabares (Francine), Glenn Scarpelli, Michael Lembeck, Boyd Gaines

ALICE - Linda Lavin (Alice), Philip McKeon (Tommy), Polly Holliday (Flo), Diane Ladd (Belle), Celia Weston (Jolene)

WHAT'S HAPPENING - Ernest Thompson Jr. (Rog), Haywood Nelson (Dwayne), Danielle Spencer (Dee)

MARY HARTMAN MARY HARTMAN - Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, Greg Mullavey, Martin Mull, Fred Willard, Dabney Coleman

THREE'S COMPANY - Joyce Dewitt (Janet), Suzanne Somers (Chrissy), Richard Kline (Larry), Jeffrey Tambor and Patty McCormick (from "The Ropers"), Priscilla Barnes (Terri)

LOVE BOAT - Gavid McLeod (Capt. Steubing), Bernie Kopell (Doc), Ted Lange (Isaac), Fred Grandy (Gopher), Lauren Tewes (Julie), Jill Whelan (Vicki)

SOAP - Robert Guillame (Benson)Katherine Hellmond (Jessica), Robert Mandan (Chester), Diana Canova (Corinne), Jennifer Salt (Eunice), Jimmy Baio (Billy), Jay Johnson, Billy Crystal (Jody), Ted Wass (Danny)

MORK AND MINDY - Pam Dawber (Mindy), Conrad Janis

TAXI - Judd Hirsch (Alex), Danny Devito (Louie), Marilu Henner (Elaine), Tony Danza (Tony)
Christopher Lloyd (Reverend Jim), Carol Kane (Simka)

WKRP IN CINCINNATI - Gary Sandy (Andy), Loni Anderson (Jennifer), Tim Ried (Venus),
Howard Hesseman (Johnny Fever), Richard Sanders (Les). Frank Bonner (Herb), 
Jan Smithers (Bailey)

DIFF'RENT STROKES - Todd Bridges (Willis), Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett)

BENSON - Robert Guillame (Benson), Didi Conn, Missy Gold, Rene Auberjoinios, Ethan Phillips, Inga Swenson

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT - Nancy Dussault, Debra Van Valkenberg, Lydia Cornell

BOSOM BUDDIES - Tom Hanks, Peter Scolari, Holland Taylor, Donna Dixon, 
   Telma Hopkins 

FACTS OF LIFE - Charlotte Rae, Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn, Nancy McKeon, Kim Fields, Geri Jewell, Cloris Leachman, George Clooney

MAMA'S FAMILY - Vicki Lawrence, Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Ken Berry, Dorothy Lyman, Betty White, Beverly Archer

And let's not forget the creators, writers and directors:  Norman Lear, James L. Brooks, Alan Burns, Mel Brooks, Buck Henry, Jay Sandrich, Susan Harris, Paul Bogart, Gene Reynolds, Carl Reiner, Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, Bill Persky, Hugh Wilson, Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas, Glen and Les Charles, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, Bernie Kukoff, James Burrows